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Impossible Tom Cruise stunts, teen life in Eighth Grade and real journalism in Shock & Awe

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THE THIRD MURDER: Ready for a good story told straight forward without tricks and gimmicks? This one from Japan fits that exactly. It’s mesmerizing to boot, wonderfully acted and crisply written. As an added bonus you get a clear view of court procedures in Japan. There’s a great deal of pre-trail conferencing for instance as both prosecution and defense reveal what they’ll be arguing. In this story that’s a bit tricky because the case that looks so overt is anything but. The accused has confessed to murdering his boss, withdrawn it and continues to change his story.

His lawyer confronts him, offers to deter a potential death sentence but gets only resistance. Years earlier the suspect avoided death on another murder conviction because the judge cited “extenuating circumstances.” “Back then we believed social conditions generate crime,” the retired judge says now.  But “circumstances” are discovered this time too, through the testimony of the victim’s daughter and the attempt by the suspect to blame the dead man’s widow. It gets very tangled but with lean writing and sharp directing by Hirokazu Kore-eda the film is also tense and engrossing. The main actors, Isao Hashizume as the lawyer and Kôji Yakusho as the suspect, helped write the script. Both are prominent actors in Japan; the latter best known to us for the hit film Shall We Dance. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5

ANGELS WEAR WHITE: The mood is calm and clinical but there’s so much that’s lurid underneath, I’m surprised China let this one out of the country. Vivian Qu’s second film slashes away at official visions of society and finds corruption, sex-abuse and patriarchal misuse of power underneath. It’s only one story, but filled out in so many ways, it seems to be intended as widespread condemnation. With little noise and no histrionics, it calls on you to think hard to find that extra meaning.

 

On the surface it’s a brightly filmed story at a seaside resort where a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe  stands on the beach, tourists film it from below and a young undocumented worker is inspired to dream. She’s a cleaner at a hotel, subs for a carousing desk clerk one night and checks in a man with two underage girls. Later she shoots a cell phone picture from the security monitor as the guy forces his way into the girls’ room. She can’t tell anyone though because she has no papers. The police do a weak investigation (for reasons we find out later) and only a diligent woman lawyer sticks with it. Various people want money; parents betray their children, important people are protected, and hymens are reconstructed. It’s a grim indictment all around but briskly told and ends with a starkly ironic image and lots to think about. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5    

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO: CODA: Here’s a sparkling introduction to a composer you may not know but have surely heard. He won an Oscar for scoring The Last Emperor. More recently he created the music for The Revenant and among his many other titles there’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, in which he also acted and Davie Bowie gave him a kiss. Excerpts from all these and more are clipped into the film as he talks about them, about his creative process and two aspects of his personal life. He’s an ecological activist, both speaking and demonstration against nuclear power and global warming. “If I feel strongly about something, I can’t look the other way,” he says.

On a sad note, he learns he has throat cancer, originally finds it hard to believe (“It still feels like a joke”) and then explains the difficulties it has brought on him. Still it’s a dignified and amiable image we get of him playing and talking at the piano or working in his studio. What he calls “perpetual sound” fascinates him. Or water, the purest sound he’s ever heard. The film is a visit not a full biography. It fails to mention that he lives as much in New York as Japan or much of his early history. As a member of one band long ago he’s credited with pioneer work in both electro-pop and hip hop. Very pleasant to meet him. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5

TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES: They’ve been around in various configurations and media since 1964 (comics, TV, video, and now Netflix) but I haven’t been familiar with them. I’m told though by two regular viewers that this movie is exactly like the series being shown these days. So fans can be assured; they’ll get what they expect. For the rest of us, it’s something of a letdown. Animated films are so good these days, imaginative, glistening, clever. This one is pretty standard. More problematic: the creators looking for cheeky humor try way too hard to be hip.

 

The five teen superheroes, Robin, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy and Cyborg protect Jump City from the usual type of comics villains. They’re like teens everywhere; they argue, they bicker, they’re endearing. But when the villain of the day, Slade, voiced by Will Arnett, says they’re a joke, not real heroes, Robin gets an idea. Off they go to Hollywood looking for a movie deal, like real super heroes have. We get a lot of movie references and in jokes. There are jabs at Marvel Comics and their films (this one is from the rival DC comics). There are several funny trailers for imaginary upcoming movies and two cameos by Stan Lee. The fanboys get that; do the kids? The teens try eliminating the other super heroes and when that fails search for an arch nemesis. The animation is simple and TV quality and the wit is less than sparkling. (International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 2  out of 5

More in New Movies

Widows of criminals doing it for themselves, the seed of modern politics and the perils of war reporting

Also an ingenious take on the migrant crisis, and a second appreciation this year of Ingmar Bergman that adds to what we already know from the first

Melissa’s forgeries, Rami’s dead-on Freddie Mercury and a cult classic re-imagined

Also: a bit of opera (real with Maria Callas and fictional in Bel Canto) and an ode to BC’s chief geographical feature in This Mountain Life
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